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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Gardening to Distraction: Time to plant mums

  • We may be accustomed to planting chrysanthemums in fall but that is not the best time to get them started. Chrysanthemums, like most plants, benefit from a full growing season by planting them in spring.
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  • We may be accustomed to planting chrysanthemums in fall but that is not the best time to get them started. Chrysanthemums, like most plants, benefit from a full growing season by planting them in spring.
    The early start will give their shallow roots time to establish themselves so they can more safely pull themselves through cold winters. With extra growing time, mums will become perennials instead of having to be planted every year for fall color.
    Originally from China, mums have been cultivated for more than 2,500 years before they migrated west. Infusions of petals and leaves made wine and medicine; dew collected from them supposedly promoted longevity. They are considered one of the four noble plants along with orchids, bamboo and plum.
    Zen Buddhist monks took them to Japan, where they became the symbol of the Japanese Empire. What looks like a rising gold sun symbol is actually a 16-petaled yellow chrysanthemum.
    When I was working in Tokyo, I loved Fridays because subway cars would be filled with the smell of chrysanthemums as riders each carried one carefully-wrapped yellow chrysanthemum home.
    Mums can be triggered into blooming by decreasing the amount of light they receive, which is why they tend to bloom in autumn. They have also bloomed in my garden in early spring when I have forgotten to trim them back.
    Because they come in so many different varieties and are long-lived as cut flowers, mums are one of florists' favorite go-to flowers.
    To keep their manicured shape, and prevent flowering, mums need to be pinched back an inch or so every week through July 4. Those clippings can be placed in a glass of water or dunked in rooting hormone and placed in a pot of new soil to root new plants.
    I should do that but I tend to snip off a handful, make a hole next to the original plant, plant the clippings, then water. In most cases, those little snippets become new plants and can be either left where they are or moved to a new garden location.
    Remember not to plant them near outside porch lights or street lights or you will never have any blooms.
    Chrysanthemums are also long lived once they are established and well watered. I have a mum that was a Mother's Day gift a good 25 years ago that still blooms in fall today.
    If you insist on planting mums in fall, plant them at least six weeks before the first frost to get their roots established. Cut off spent flowers; mulch, and water at least twice a month, even through cold and snow. Keeping their shallow roots moist will help them get established, although through winter it is a much slower, and iffy, process.
    Don't throw away those spent dry flowers. You can toss them around a flower bed as an insect-deterrent. Pyrethrum, made from chrysanthemums, is a popular standard insecticide.
    Page 2 of 2 - If you have a chemical-free garden, you can also steep dried mum flowers in hot water for five minutes for a delicious homemade tea.
    Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate. Copyright 2014 used with permission by Rolla Daily News and Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@gmail.com.
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